The Darling Downs and adjoining farming land forms a rich and nationally iconic farming region of southern Queensland which extends from Toowoomba to Dalby and then towards Wandoan in the north. It is located within the Surat geological basin. The Downs have been described as 'four million acres of the richest soil in the world' and are sometimes called the 'Garden of Australia'. The Downs and adjoining areas grow most of the state's fruit, oilseeds and wheat, as well as producing maize, oats, sorghum, millet and other crops. Added to that it has pastoral areas famous for horse and cattle studs and wool production. The western and northern Downs are prime cattle country, producing some of the best beef in Australia.
Until recently, the Downs were virtually untouched by coal and gas mining, with only four small coal mines operating in the region. But now this fertile country is the target of a massive mining development boom. Already, exploration permits for coal and gas in the Surat Basin cover more than 5 million hectares of land.
Most of the 18,000 coal seam gas wells and 4,000km of pipeline approved in Qld in the last two years are planned for the Darling Downs. Approvals are now being sought for another 8,400 wells. Gasfields have been approved to cover 1 million hectares and new approvals seek to expand across another 2 million hectares. This will result in good agricultural land being lost to mining, and tens of thousands of hectares of native bushland being cleared for wells, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure, including state forest areas containing endangered fauna and flora. It will fragment and degrade whole landscapes.
These plans come with massive infrastructure developments - three LNG export plants have been developed on the Great Barrier Reef. Only one thing is certain, if these plans proceed, the Darling Downs will never be the same again and our food-production will be in jeopardy.
There have also been plans for new and expanded coal mines in the region. Most of these are currently on ice due to the low price of thermal coal, but if they were to go ahead, they could effect up to 110,000 hectares of farming land and producing 180 million tonnes of coal per annum. They would also involve a new railway line for coal transport, and the construction of a major dam on the Dawson River to supply water to the proposed mines.